ANALYSIS: U.S. must strengthen foreign language education

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Dec 27 14:02:08 UTC 2008

ANALYSIS: U.S. must strengthen foreign language education

Friday, December 26, 2008


Unless America pumps up foreign language education, both the nation's
global competitiveness and national security could be at risk. That's
the opinion of a cross-section of experts concerned that a weakened
economy and heightened international tensions leave the nation in need
of clearer communication with friend and foe alike. Deficiencies in
Middle Eastern and Asian languages pose the most immediate problems.
"If the U.S., in the modern world, is going to maintain its position
as a global leader it's going to have to become more conversant," said
Ken Gude, a former Center for National Security Studies policy

An estimated 200 million school-aged children in China study English,
according to a 2006 Education Department release. Just 24,000 of their
U.S. counterparts study Chinese languages. The gap is significant.
David Gray, former Labor Department acting assistant secretary for
policy, said one thing is certain to emerge from the retooling of the
worldwide financial system - greater global challenges to America's
economic dominance. It used to be that the United States could skate
by with workers who spoke only English because they sold to a more
concentrated customer base and the quality of their products was
superior, Mr. Gray said.

But now that countries like India are closing the quality gap -
offering products that are equally good or better - U.S. businesses
are forced to adopt new strategies. "In a more competitive market
where products are increasing in quality we need to be able to compete
on relationships and service, (and) languages are an important
factor," said Mr. Gray, who now works at the New America Foundation, a
Washington-based think tank.

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